Every Saturday night, Clinton "CJ" Wilford begins the transformation. A serious-yet-laid-back Kansas University student by day, CJ slowly morphs into CGz, the "geezulating" emcee of "Hip Hop Hyp" as the weekend starts to peak.
"When that red light goes on the one that says 'On Air' I'm in a whole other world," Wilford says. "My body is in a whole other state. I throw my whole personality into it because I want my voice to be felt."
Running from 8 p.m. to midnight on Saturdays, "Hip Hop Hyp" has long delighted area music fans with its blend of cutting-edge rap, local favorites and old-school classics. The show, found on KJHK 90.7 FM, has helped bring the hip-hop movement to Lawrence, entertaining and educating in its few short hours.
"We like to innovate, we like to create," Wilford explains. "The dynamic of the show makes you have to include this all-encompassing body of hip-hop. We try to give people new stuff that they ain't heard yet the new rawness, the new hypeness, the new hip-hop and keep people informed about the culture they love. Plus we have to include all the old stuff, too. When I say old stuff, it could be a month old or the first hip-hop song. And we try to include all the local flavors. So you have to take everything and try to fit it into four hours on a Saturday night, once a week."
The CGz funk era
"Hip Hop Hyp" (formerly "Hip Hop Hype") began in 1996 with host Apocalypse, whose young prot, Abdul Kareem Ali, took over the program soon after. Ali's exuberant presence, tastemaking song selection and commitment to breaking new musical ground brought national attention to the show, making it easily among KJ's most popular offerings. Wilford came aboard in the fall of 1999 as Ali's apprentice and co-host, taking over earlier this year as Ali prepared for graduation.
"He's the perfect person for it," says Ali, who's currently interning at Kansas City radio behemoth KPRS 103.3 FM. "I brought him on with me and saw how he really just shined. He has the right type of personality for the show. He's definitely real down to earth and full of excitement. With him, you never know what you're gonna get, he's a constant ball of energy. He's definitely good at interacting with the crowd."
"He was doing the same thing that I did," Wilford says of Ali. "He was sitting behind somebody else who'd been there for a minute. He picked it up, and Apocalypse moved on to the professional world. Then I came in and started learning everything from Kareem. He put me up on everything. Pretty much every time I was here, I was in the studio learning, watching, being a guest. Ultimately, he became my partner and my brother for real.
"After I got down the technical and business sides of radio and learned how to run the show, it was mine like it was his. That's how we looked at it: We shared it. We were teammates. You gotta man every part of the battleship, and our battleship is Saturday from 8 p.m. to midnight."
Though the one-two punch of Kareem and CGz proved lethal, the show now basks in the radiant glow of its new frontman. CGz' on-air vibe is a bit more relaxed compared to Ali's quicksilver energy, but the essence of "Hip Hop Hyp" remains wholly intact.
"I think the show definitely has changed," the 22-year-old Wilford admits. "I get a lot of feedback from the listeners, from people who've been listening for a long time and from people who just caught on. They let me know that they can tell that it has CGz' flavor. But it's still the same old 'Hyp' other than that. We still come with the same music, the same type of flavor."
In true "Hyp" tradition, Wilford brought his own apprentice/permanent special guest on deck this semester. Brian "Smokey" Pearson is the perfect sidekick for CGz, throwing in his court jester humor and trademark smoke-isms like rap's original madman.
"Smokey's my dog," Wilford says. "He's a young prot and my homeboy and friend. He loves hip-hop music and just music period. We met last year, and over the summer he expressed an interest in the show. He started coming up to the station, and now he kicks it with me on the air every weekend."
While putting together the program takes a fair amount of time and energy, Wilford refuses to write out set lists in advance, preferring to keep the show flowing and spontaneous, allowing for happy accidents and moments of sheer inspiration. This is not to say that Wilford doesn't put in work he spends dozens of hours each week poring over new records, filtering out tracks that aren't hot enough for the "Hyp."
"I never go in there with a sheet or anything telling me what I can play," he explains. "People think that we just come in on the weekends and have fun and mess around in the studio, but there's a huge outside commitment of time. Every Saturday is my radio day, where I devote all my time to radio. I spend the whole day just kinda chillin' and maxin' and soaking up music."
Sadly, the former host of "Hip Hop Hyp" isn't finding the transition to commercial radio a particularly satisfying experience. Ali, who admits that he misses his old gig, is quick to point out the differences between his internship at KPRS and his previous work for KJHK.
"My experience with commercial radio is not at all like college radio," Ali says. "There are a lot more restrictions. It's not what a lot of people would expect, at least for the on-air personalities. It's definitely still somewhat interesting but I don't like the idea of being a puppet."
"Hip Hop Hyp," on the other hand, is perfectly suited for the non-commercial KJHK, which has a long-standing tradition of pushing local radio boundaries, offering unique programs that derive much of their character from the characters behind the mike.
"Commercial radio got what you can recognize, but we got the goods," Wilford enthuses. "'Queer Radio,' 'Malicious Intent.' You wouldn't hear shows like that unless you were in a large city somewhere. We offer that right